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South Side Murals: Childhood Is Without Prejudice

By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 13, 2010 6:00PM

Our South Side mural series continues this week in Hyde Park, where a series of iconic murals are painted in four panels along the Metra underpass at 56th Street and Stony Island. Children of different racial backgrounds are painted as enormous Venn diagrams, their circular heads overlapping each other in a multiracial celebration. These murals have been there since 1977, and have benefited from two restorations, including one just last year. The murals have been so well restored that the only bit of original paint is a green drip on the sleeve of one of the children's sweaters, which has been carefully painted around during the restorations.

The Venn diagram children--officially known as Childhood is Without Prejudice--was the invention of William Walker, the spiritual father of the community mural movement. Childhood is Without Prejudice was a tribute to the nearby Bret Harte elementary school, which Walker's daughter had attended.

We love the simplicity of the Venn diagrams, as well as the racial complexity that underlies them, and we imagine them being even more powerful at their inception some 40 years ago. There's a lot of history behind the murals and muralist: Walker also piloted the 1967 Wall of Respect, which is often cited as the community mural that started it all. Painted on the side of a now-destroyed building at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue in 1967, Walker was spurred by the civil rights and black power movements to paint portraits of 50 prominent African-Americans.

Childhood is Without Prejudice is on the east side of the underpass, and Olivia Gude's Where We Come From... Where We're Going is on the west; we hear that Gude has plans to create a "conceptually cool" transitional mural between the two. We suggest taking advantage of the fresh coats of paint on both these murals and heading down to Hyde Park with your camera--and, as always, tag your Flickr photos with "chicagoist" to add them to our pool. See if you can find that drop of green paint from the original 1977 mural.